The tragedy of old age is not that one is old, but that one is young –
OSCAR WILDE, The Picture of Dorian Gray
In my eyes, we cannot talk about ageing & maturation till we don’t respect the makers of the ‘new make spirit’. The genesis of a spirit and the depth in its production is the starting point. If thats done well, the master blenders have a good creation in their hands, the consequence of which will be worked upon for generations to come.
The subject of age is rather fascinating, however the demonstration of why age matters and why great things take time, gets more meaningful when you have some very premium and exclusive expressions of whiskies to taste amongst like minded people.
It was a rare evening where we had thirty Accor Advantage Plus club members at Sofitel Mumbai BKC, for a tasting on the subject of ‘Age Matters’. There were four whiskies tasted from the house of Pernod Ricard – Ballantine 12 Year Old, The Glenlivet 15 Year Old, Chivas 18 Year Old, and Royal Salute 21 Year Old. The members were a myriad mix of enthusiastic scotch drinkers from divergent backgrounds, entrepreneurs, surgeons, bankers, well heeled corporates, this was a comprehensive group, eager to discern age.
When it comes to discussing aged whiskies, the hunger for a higher number is evident in each lovers’ eyes, however on this journey of unmasking age we unlatched a lot of myths, stimagas and notions around this subject that people had held so far.
Why does Age Matter in a whisky ?
We don’t Grow Old we grow Riper – Pablo Picasso
I equate that with the long term maturity of a whisky while it rests in the casks. Perhaps 60 to 80% of the whisky character forms during its years quietly maturing in the cask. There are no shortcuts to creating this character.
Some wise man/ or should i say, old wise man once said
One advantage to being 102 – there’s no peer pressure
This brings me to my next aspect of age, age imparts Rarity. There is a finite supply of aged whisky in existence. What was made and stored a number of years ago cannot be conjured up again.
Maturity comes with experience & not age
I’d like to correlate this to the craft in a whisky.
The skill and experience of a master blender is of supreme importance. Its not just longevity that defines an aged whisky, its the sensibility and prowess of this man. The size of the cask, the type and condition of wood, charring or toasting level, temperature and location of storage and many other factors will play an important role as well and a Master Blender is the curator of this fine symphony
When combining these three factors – character attained during maturation, the limited supply of aged whisky and the skill and time that has gone into creating it, helps us appreciate why aged whiskies are quite so valuable.
Two whiskies which display an overt splendour of the craft in their making were Chivas Regal 18 Year Old and The Glenlivet 15 Year Old.
Chivas Regal 18 Year Old is not just another Chivas Regal 12 Year Old blended and matured for another 6 years, its a unique blend of exceptional single malts and Grains aged for at least 18 years. Hand selected by the master blender Colin Scott. Infact there are 85 whiskies which go into the making of Chivas Regal 18 Year Old. At its heart is Strathisla 18 Year Old, Longmorn 18 Year Old, exclusively for Chivas Regal 18 YO and not commercially available.
Indulgence, characteristic dark velvety chocolate, visp of smoke, with a luxurious long finish, strength and harmony in a blended scotch whisky at its very best.
The Glenlivet 15 Year Old, is a good example of the long-standing relationship between the maturing spirit and the harbouring oak. This malt’s distinctive character is the result of selective maturation; a proportion of the spirit is matured in a selection of French Oak casks for a limited period. Limousin (French) Oak, is often used to mature fine wines and cognacs. In the case of The Glenlivet, its low density allows the spirit to penetrate deep into the wood, imparting the expression’s distinctive spiciness.
Such an intense and robust aroma composition while deconstructing the nuances of age, required that we enhance the experience of the evening further and make this tasting session more evocative. Chef Indrajit Saha, Executive Chef – Sofitel Mumbai, created a superlative paired menu of canapés to match each expression being tasted. The endeavour was to compliment the whisky with the food or to evolve a surprise synthesis.
In the words of Chef Indrajit Saha, “The aspects that I kept in mind while pairing with whisky was the flavour pairing, subtle or robust nature of whisky. I have paired the more finer whiskey with the molecular food as molecular food is more smooth and it goes well with fineness.”
My personal favourite pairing was a canapé which the chef called “Opera” with The Glenlivet 15 Year Old. So this offering was like a complete composition of its own, where each layer had a distinct aroma & mouthfeel to itself. It was laid out in minuscule sheets of Smoked duck, Thai soya oyster glaze, almond gel, peanut praline and ending with a gush of orange zest. When you roll the whisky over it, it would balance and compliment it beautifully with the cinnamon spice in The Glenlivet 15 YO.
One of the most impactful discussions, during our tasting session was when we moved to the higher aged variants, from Chivas Regal 18 Year Old to Royal Salute 21 Year Old. The audience felt overwhelmed with the metaphor of Taj Mahal used to describe the magnanimity of 21 years. After all, both masterpieces took exactly that long to get created. We had one hand a symbol of power, sovereignty and nobility and on the other hand a symbol of extreme compassion. Both inspired by women, one who rose to power and the other who rose to her love forever ! A blended scotch whisky like Royal Salute, is an experience beyond a spirit, it is the luxurious trance of believing that you are the king and you deserve the dram you are savouring !
So does Age Matter ?
The obvious answer would be yes! Age is an imposing measure of quality and an assurance that the dram in your hands is a ‘water beyond life’. However exceedingly distilleries are breaking the shackles of age and launching variant after variant devoid of the number. The industry critics labelling this move as realistic given the depleting resources and brands labelling them as unconventional and radical with the plunge towards differentiation in their choice of casks, finishes, non chill filtered to name a few.
As for me, I am a whisky maven and would be predisposed towards any move of tasting a product launch, innovation or creation of an inimitable style. So how do we make our choice towards discernment.
This was one of the most discussed sections that evening amongst all of us, if age matters ! What I concluded with the group was that age sure does matter, however at all times, let your senses rule. There is an upper limit to how long a spirit can age. A cask from the Hebrew era would have the whisky so overpowered by flavours coming from the wood, that it may start to lose some of the intricacies.
Tasting and appreciating whiskies is a sensorial journey, apply your sensory judgement and age will matter !
As for the readers of my blog, here’s something that brings you on the same platform with the holy spirit,
Do not regret getting old, its a privilege denied to many – Unknown